Jon thinks he's a simple guy. He says there are only a few things in life he cares about. His car, his apartment, his family -- but it's actually a fairly long list. Likewise, the routines by which he does these things are pretty complicated, including one of his most active hobbies. Jon pleasures himself to online porn at least once a day but has to go through a whole process to enjoy it. Nothing simple about it.
That's the rope-a-dope of “Don Jon,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt's debut as writer and director. The “Looper” star has set up what looks like a fairly straightforward comedy about an average New York Guido whose addiction to porn gets in the way of his having a meaningful relationship. When he starts dating Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), he thinks she's the one. His internet habits provide the only hitch. He can curtail his tomcatting in reality, just not virtually.
“Don Jon” is raunchy. The dialogue’s frank and much of what we see is explicit enough to make this a film exclusively for grown-ups. Luckily, the emotional places Gordon-Levitt takes his characters are pretty grown-up, too. Taking a cue from Jonathan Levine, with whom the actor made the criminally underseen “50/50,” Gordon-Levitt hides some heavy-duty stuff behind the broad comedy and caricature. There’s something substantial waiting for moviegoers when the laughter dies down.
Like Jon himself, it’s all a bit slick. At a trim 90 minutes, Gordon-Levitt could have afforded to slow down and give the transition into the final act a few more beats. He also uses technique as a shortcut, showing off in ways that only call attention to his rookie status (clever cuts, call-back montages, etc.).
With a cast this good, such missteps are easy to forgive, though. Johansson walks a fine line, allowing her Long Island-princess routine to get a little messy, and Julianne Moore effortlessly offers the heartfelt antidote to “Don Jon”'s manufactured glitz. Gordon-Levitt, who’s note perfect himself in the muscled-up lead, smartly lets Moore, a performer we are prone to trust, crack open the facade so we can at long last see there’s a lot of heart keeping all that pretense going.